Fearing food emergency, govt imposes Essential Services Act on utility stores

–Move to ensure union activities remain subdued and there are no strike calls during Covid-19

–USC Union chief says govt’s decision is ‘tantamount to encroachment on employees’ rights’ 

ISLAMABAD: As the government fears a food emergency in the coming months, it has imposed the Essential Services Act, 1952, on Utility Stores Corporation (USC) to ensure uninterrupted supply of food items to people.

According to sources, the government fears that expected protests and strikes by USC unions may hamper the activities of the stores.

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“To avoid a crisis situation and to ensure unions’ activities remain subdued and there is no strike call or lockdown, the government has notified the Essential Service Act for a period of six months (effective from June 11),” an insider informed. “This act is applicable to every federal organization whose job is to provide essential services to the people in case of natural disasters and emergencies.”

USC is the only entity under the Ministry of Industries where the Essential Services Act has been declared. 

On June 2, the federal cabinet had approved the Ministry of Industries’ request for the imposition of the said act, stating that the act could be extended further if needed. 

“The importance of USC has increased manifold amid Covid-19, as the corporation has to maintain an adequate supply of essential commodities in the country. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also listed the provision of food and other essential goods in its guideline to meet demand under emergency situations,” the summary forwarded by the Ministry of Industries and Production had stated.

Meanwhile, USC Union Chairman Syed Arif Hussain Shah has expressed concerns over the government’s move, terming it “tantamount to encroachment on the employees’ rights”.

He alleged that USC management is misleading the government to cover up its corruption. “Instead of implementing this act in the USC, a committee headed by the NAB chairman should be set up to expose the corruption of the USC management.”

On the other hand, a government official clarified that union activities are not being banned in the USC, however, the employees cannot observe strikes, lockdowns or any such activity that could hamper the sale and supply of goods from the USC outlets.

Apart from the USC, the other main service sector or production units under the industries ministry include Pakistan Steel Mills, Pakistan Machine Tool Factory, ENAR Petrotech Services, Heavy Electrical Complex and Pakistan Engineering Company (PECO). 

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Ghulam Abbas
Ghulam Abbas
The writer is a member of the staff at the Islamabad Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected]

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